The Upper East Side's Congestion Pricing Task Force rejects the MTA's plan
The Upper East Side's CB8 Congestion Pricing Task Force rejects the MTA's plan | Nelson Ndongala/Unsplash

UES Congestion Pricing Task Force REJECTS Plan for $23 Toll at 60th Street

After a marathon meeting lasting nearly four hours, the Upper East Side’s Community Board 8 Congestion Pricing Task Force rejected the MTA’s plan to charge drivers up to $23 to cross below 60th Street in Manhattan, taking a stand against the deeply unpopular plan in a resolution that narrowly passed in a split four-to-three vote Wednesday night.  

Both members of the Task Force and members of public sounded off on a long list of very valid concerns about the impact the MTA’s long-delayed Congestion Pricing plan—  of which was revealed in an ‘environmental assessment’ was released last month.  

“We shouldn’t have voted for them [in the past] because we didn’t know the details. And we shouldn’t vote for it now because we do know the details,” said Task Force member Michele Birnbaum.

Everything from the lack of representation on the committee making the decisions to the potential for a torrent of drivers seeking to avoid the toll clogging up Upper East Side streets were discussed— most notably, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s dismal track record.

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“The bottom line is that all they’re doing is raising money that they should be raising at the fare box, on the buses and in the tolls,” said Andrew Fine, vice president of the East 86th Street Association, one of several speakers noting that fare evasion should be the MTA’s top priority when it comes to revenue.

“It’s crazy that they’re looking to suck out more money from the city,” said Monika McKane Sanchez, a member of the public, “they’re just looking for a bigger hose of money.”

In fact, anticipated reduction in traffic by the hefty toll on drivers is a paltry ten percent cut in vehicles entering in Midtown and Lower Manhattan, according to the assessment. 

Even the plan’s official name does not mention congestion or pollution— instead it’s dubbed the ‘Central Business District Tolling Program.’

“It is a straight money grab,” said Mr. Fine, “if pollution had anything to do with this we would have exemptions for hybrid cars, electric cars, carpools.”

Congestion Pricing in its current form appears to do little more than give a mouth-watering new revenue stream for the MTA, to the tune of one billion dollars each year, that would pour into the coffers of the historically fiscally-mismanaged and perpetually cash-strapped transit agency.  

Not even satisfied with the windfall, the MTA plans to turn that one billion a year into $15 Billion for its infrastructure plan through the use of loans.

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“If we give them this extra billion dollars a year, which they should be collecting from people that are defrauding the system… they’re gonna leverage it for more debt,” Mr. Fine pleaded to the Task Force, “these guys are the black hole and you don’t need the Hubble telescope to find.”

The MTA’s assessment even admits the agency could accomplish the same goals simply by tolling the East River and Harlem River Bridges— a far less invasive measure than splitting the island of Manhattan practically in half— however, it would require lawmakers in Albany to pass legislation funneling the money to the MTA, of course. 

Upper East Siders still have time to sound off and can share their thoughts with the MTA by clicking here and the Federal Highway Administration— which still has to approve the plan— by clicking here.  The public comment period is open through September 23rd.

“I’m not going to run scared that they’re not going to listen to us,” Michele Birnbaum defiantly told the meeting as some sought to water down the language of their resolution rejecting Congestion Pricing.

“They’re not going to listen to us for sure if we’re not speaking out and there’s nothing to listen to,” Birnbaum added.

 “To me the fight is not over.”

The resolution now heads to a full meeting of Community Board 8 for vote on September 21st.

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